Boost Higher Education Student Enrollment in 4 Steps

Exploring how colleges and universities can leverage 15 factors affecting student enrollment in order to attract, retain, and graduate more learners.

10 min read • Jodi Tandet

Key Takeaways

  • Enrollment rates continue to eb and flow in relation to shifting attitudes about higher education and changing student needs, along with evolving career and economic trends.
  • Healthy enrollment and retention depend not solely on admissions practices nor initiatives guided by the Office of Student Enrollment. Individuals throughout the institution can and must develop creative strategies to attract, enroll, and support modern learners.
  • Flexible programming, lifelong learner opportunities, and technological integrations are crucial to future-proofing enrollment. Over the next ten years, learner demand for more flexible and accessible learning options will increase, and institutions must evolve in order to keep up.


Growing and maintaining high enrollment within higher education is so much more than a numbers game. Enrollment fuels innovation, shapes academic excellence, and ensures the continuity of knowledge.

Most college and university professionals understand the importance of attracting, retaining and supporting learners year after year. Yet, institutions that fall into old habits and fail to embrace change will fall behind.

In order to stay relevant within a fast-changing world and appeal to evolving student expectations, colleges and universities cannot keep their enrollment strategies stagnant.

So, how can colleges and universities ensure steady enrollment within their programs?

First, they must understand the top factors that impact enrollment—including external challenges, institutional attributes, and learner preferences. Next, they must develop strategies that intentionally address appropriate enrollment trends and offer personalized support to their students. Finally, anyone invested in increasing enrollment must keep an eye on the near future and understand how today’s trends point toward future enrollment barriers and opportunities.

Here, we address how to increase student enrollment, how to leverage student enrollment software, and more.

tudent-hands-pointing-to-a-laptop Factors Affecting Student Enrollment

Enrollment rates and trends are impacted by a large number of social, personal, andinstitutional factors, including: 

Economic Conditions

The state of the local or national economies can have a significant impact on enrollment.

During economic downturns, more people may choose to enroll in higher education to improve their job prospects, while during prosperous times, some may opt to enter the workforce immediately.

Enrollment Costs

High tuition costs can deter new students from enrolling, while lower costs can make higher education more accessible.

Other direct costs like room and board, books, and student activity fees can also influence affordability, as can more indirect fees that students may need to pay in order to stay enrolled, such as childcare, car insurance or public transport costs, healthcare, and eldercare.

Financial Aid Availability

The availability of scholarships, grants, loans, and other forms of financial aid can greatly impact enrollment. The ease of acquiring and retaining such aid can influence a student’s decision to enroll at a particular institution or institution type.


Shifting local, state, and national demographics can impact enrollment trends in various ways.

For example, an aging population might result in a lower demand for traditional undergraduate programs while increasing demand for continuing education or workforce development courses. Increased diversity—among religion, race, gender, socio-economic status, and other demographics—also means that institutions must evolve in order to appeal to changing student needs, habits, and interests.

Employment Opportunities

Perceptions of job prospects after graduation, including salary projections, can impact enrollment decisions. Institutions with academic programs related to high-earning career fields may see higher enrollment than programs whose graduates earn lower salaries or have fewer opportunities for advancement.

Geographic Location

The location of an institution is important for more than just the millions of learners who can only afford to study near home; the livability of a region is also crucial. A region’s affordability, safety, job prospects, childcare options, and entertainment offerings can all influence enrollment.

“A region’s affordability, safety, job prospects, childcare options, and entertainment offerings can all influence enrollment.”
Reputation and Ranking

Students may be more likely to enroll in well-known and highly-ranked colleges and universities.

The American Educational Research Association found that institutions that made the top 25 on the U.S. News & World Report rankings saw a 6 percent to 10 percent increase in applications. And, in a 2019 survey of incoming students, 15 percent of respondents named rankings as “very important” in their enrollment decision.

Academic Programs

The availability of specific academic programs, courses, and credentials that align with a student's interests and career goals can affect enrollment.

Institutions with strong programs in a particular field may attract more applicants. Institutions that allow students to double-major or minor, build their own degree programs, or acquire academic credits via internships may also see higher enrollment.

Access to Technology

Technology guides how many of today’s learners engage within their community, obtain news and information, and even develop a sense of self. Thus, access to reliable technology and an institution’s willingness to adapt to emerging technologies can greatly influence enrollment and retention.

Students say their tech priorities include access to reliable campus WiFi, a centralized student portal , online course offerings, and digital course materials.

Cultural and Social Factors

Cultural and social factors, including family expectations and peer influences, can play a role in enrollment decisions.

Students may choose to follow the educational paths of their families or friends, whether by enrolling in the same institutions or seeking out similar degree programs. High school graduates whose families skipped higher education in favor of immediately joining the workforce may also elect not to pursue a college degree.

Marketing and Outreach Efforts

Enrollment is often indicative of an institution’s marketing and outreach efforts.

The quality and quantity of digital advertising, mailers, recruitment events, social media campaigns, the institution’s website, and text messaging conversations, among other efforts, can influence students' initial interest and discussion to enroll.

blog poster 3
Government Policies

Local, federal, and state policies can influence a student’s interest or ability to pursue higher education. This can include policies related to immigration, affirmative action, student loans, transfer credits, and work-study programs.

Admissions Policies

Whether or not a student is accepted to an institution will obviously affect their enrollment. Additionally, students may elect not to apply in the first place if they view the admissions process as too laborious or expensive.

The support, care, and communication provided to applicants will also impact their view of the institution; students who are disappointed with the application process may pick a different college or university.

Health and Safety Concerns

As seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, health and safety concerns can influence enrollment. These can also include natural disasters (which impact a campus’s structures or students’ financial health), public health crises, and instances of violence or tension near an institution.

Cultural and Social Trends

Many of today’s learners look to invest their time, money, and loyalty toward organizations and communities that align with their personal values. Societal trends and movements, along with an institution’s stated values and demonstrated actions, can, therefore, influence enrollment.

blog poster 4 Strategies For Increasing Student Enrollment

Although many of the above factors are outside of any one college or university’s direct control, institutions can still take action to overcome burdensome challenges and fuel encouraging conditions to increase enrollment. Here are four ideas:

1. Improve outreach and recruitment efforts

Business leaders know the success of any product is reliant on messaging; the right prospective buyers must be defined, reached, and sold to. So, too, is the case with higher education. Enrollment numbers can dramatically soar or fall based on the strength of marketing, advertising, and outreach efforts.

Here are some ways for institutions to better reach, engage, and attract modern learners within an increasingly competitive higher education marketplace:

2. Increase access to financial aid

Being able to afford higher education increases first-time enrollment and promotes persistence. Ways to increase access include:

  • Promoting scholarship opportunities, reminding students of application deadlines, and answering students' financial questions via text messaging
  • Personalizing your website to ensure that students and prospects can easily find financial aid information
  • Connecting with students about scholarships at all stages, from high school prospects who are considering traditional higher education programs to adult learners seeking continuing education opportunities
  • Establishing emergency funds or short-term assistance plans for students facing unexpected financial challenges
  • Offering work-study programs promoted through the career center, student engagement portal, and orientation.
3. Enhance student support services

As we explained in Driving Modern Student Success Within Higher Education, student support services are essential to students’ happiness and success within an institution. Students who feel supported holistically and have access to essential resources can overcome barriers to academic persistence and stay enrolled. 

Student services that can be created, improved, or advanced to support student wellness among multiple categories, including:

  • Academic — mentorship programs (with peers, faculty, alumni, staff, or community leaders serving as students’ mentors), academic advising, tutoring, writers centers, math labs, research centers, study groups, and time management courses.
  • Career — career coaching, resume workshops, SmartTranscripts, career fairs, mock interviews, and internship programs.
  • Health —  mental health counseling, nutritional coaching, rehabilitation support, drug and alcohol education, crisis response plans, support groups, sexual health services, and drop-in wellness clinics.
  • Financial — financial aid advising, personal finance coaching, work-study programs, emergency loans, budgetary workshops, commuter and transportation assistance, childcare services, food pantries and supply closets.
  • Co-curricular Learning & Development high-impact practices (including first-year seminars, learning communities, service learning projects, study abroad programs, internships and field experiences, and capstone projects), along with intramural sports, student clubs and organizations, leadership workshops and student governments.

Diversity and Accessibility — disability resource centers, testing accommodations, assistive technology, note-taking services, sensory rooms, accessible housing, transportation services, cultural centers, religious advisors, spiritual centers, diversity education programs, cultural festivals and celebrations, and first-generation advising.

4. Adapt emerging technologies

Leverage data analytics to personalize the website experience

87% of students say that a well-designed website improves their opinion of that institution. A content management system that is purposely built for higher education makes designing a beautiful website easy, thereby amplifying the website’s role as an enrollment-generating marketing tool. 

Better yet, with a next-generation tool like Modern Campus CMS, you can gain insight into visitors’ interests and use that information to deliver personalized content. 

Help students visualize themselves on campus with campus maps and virtual tours

Over 60% of prospective students use campus maps and virtual tours before enrolling, with 62% agreeing that virtual tours make them more likely to enroll. 

Emerging technologies offered by Modern Campus make it easy to embed maps anywhere for greater visibility, including GPS and directions for added accessibility, and customize features for branding consistency. 

Upgrade your course catalog 

PDFs seem outdated and laborious to most modern students. Fortunately, modern tools make it easy to transform your catalog into content that’s engaging and interactive, in line with students’ expectations. 

Emerging technologies like Modern Campus Catalog allow you to deliver course navigation with intuitive search, add videos and other interactive media, display relevant career data, offer degree planners, and more — all while reducing your catalog production time.

Deliver personalized schedules 

It’s financially wise to make course selection and scheduling as possible for students. When students are unable to find classes that fit around their other obligations, they may not register. 

Modern Campus’s one-of-a-kind scheduling algorithm eliminates this barrier and supports registrars by showing students their 1-in-10,000 perfect schedule, customized to their personal life, campus involvement, and preferences, while keeping them on track to graduate.

group-of-energic-students-raising-their-hands Case Studies


The best way to predict your own institution’s successes is to learn from your peers. Colleges and universities across North America have improved their enrollment strategies and increased student success through the following strategies.

Improving the digital student experience

Rhode Island School of Design’s Continuing Education division achieved a 15% increase in total enrollment across its Adult Extension, Young Artist, and Advanced Programs for High School Students, along with various summer programs. 

This enrollment increase was seen one year after RISD adopted Modern Campus Lifelong Learning, a student management system tailored to Continuing Education. 

Engaging more students in co-curricular opportunities

Valdosta State University discovered that retention skyrocketed to 95% once students attended at least 10 events per semester. 

They discovered that “magic number” of events by leveraging data and analytics from Modern Campus Involve, a student engagement and development platform built to centralize and increase engagement. 

Connecting with students via their preferred communication challenge

The CollegeBound Foundation, a non-profit focused on expanding access to higher education, found that texting high school students increases their likelihood of enrollment

Norwalk Community College’s results in boosting enrollment by texting prospective learning back that study up. Modern Campus’s exclusive Blending Messaging technology makes it easy for Norwalk, along with hundreds of other institutions, to meaningfully connect with a large number of prospective students despite having limited staff.

Modernizing catalogs and curriculum

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte achieved its highest retention rate in 15 years upon debuting a fully digital, easily navigable catalog and curriculum. 

Modern Campus Catalog cuts catalog production time in half, and Modern Campus Curriculum allows students to easily track classes, see course prerequisites, compare majors, and track curriculum requirements to stay on track from matriculation to graduation.

Showing students the RIO of higher education

Central Oregon Community College more than tripled engagement with its career webpages and increased enrollment by adding career data and salary projections. They used Modern Campus Pathways, which comes with all the data schools need and implements easily with other web tools.

Engaging prospects with campus maps and virtual tours

For Ohio Wesleyan University, Maps and Virtual Tours are objectively the most engaging sections of its website. Visitors are spending more than double the time exploring these virtual tools than the website’s average. 

Modern Campus’s cloud-based media management tools made implementation easy, and its flexibility allowed for easy customization.

group-of-students-joining-hands-in-the-center How Will College Enrollment Change In The Next 10 Years?


Enrollment trends and figures are likely to vary by region, field of study, and type of institution. But here are several key predictions proposed by educators, researchers, and enrollment experts.

Increased Emphasis on Alternative Credentials

Traditional four-year degree programs will continue to face competition from shorter, more specialized programs — including certificates, bootcamps, and microcredentials — which are more accessible and affordable to many modern learners. In fact, 92% of higher education leaders say credentials support institutional competitiveness.

Hybrid and Online Learning Growth

More and more students will likely seek out online and hybrid learning programs. This trend has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and may persist as it offers greater flexibility for learners with busy schedules and competing responsibilities.

Work-Integrated Learning

An increased focus on work-integrated learning, including internships, co-op programs, and apprenticeships, is expected. These experiential learning opportunities help students develop essential workforce-ready skills and increase employability.

Lifelong Learning

The concept of learning as a lifelong endeavor will become more prevalent as individuals seek to continuously update their skills and knowledge throughout their careers. Educational institutions and employers may collaborate to provide ongoing education and training opportunities for individuals to upskill and reskill as Continuing Education continues to become an essential part of every university's enrollment growth and financial wellness.

International Enrollment

International student enrollment may fluctuate due to changes in immigration policies and geopolitical tensions. However, most experts agree that global demand for higher education is likely to remain strong over the long term. Institutions should implement these best practices to start or continue attracting students abroad.

Artificial Intelligence and Personalized Learning

Advances in artificial intelligence, learning analytics, and language model technology may enable more personalized, adaptive learning experiences. In the near future, students may be driven to enroll in programs that creatively incorporate AI-driven technology.

Competency-Based Education

Competency-based education models, which focus on mastering specific skills or competencies rather than accumulating credit hours, are predicted to gain traction. Such models provide a framework to increase accessibility and opportunities for success for increasingly diverse groups of learners.

Educational Partnerships

Collaboration between institutions and industry partners is expected to grow and deepen, leading to more tailored programs, internships, and job placement opportunities for students as enrollment also increases.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Enrollment patterns may evolve as more and more institutions realize the need to increase educational access to historically underrepresented demographics. 

By recognizing how enrollment processes — including marketing, admissions, and registration — have largely excluded certain demographics in the past, institutions can find opportunities to improve such processes in order to reach and support more learners.

Micro Campuses and Branch Campuses

Some institutions may establish micro campuses or small branch campuses in various regions, states, or countries to expand their reach, serve diverse student populations, and serve niche and regional industries.

Blockchain Credentials

Blockchain technology could play a role in verifying and sharing educational credentials, making it easier for students to provide evidence of their qualifications to employers. Such technology could, therefore, motivate more students to earn formal credentials in the first place.




Enrollment is a shared responsibility across every department of an institution. Institution leaders, support staff, and faculty must collaborate in order to attract new demographics of learners to higher education programs, help students continually overcome external challenges, and sustain the institution’s reputation, finances, and mission. Finding new ways to increase student enrollment is far from simple, and the future is not entirely predictable, but by embracing innovation, making data-informed decisions, and listening to student needs, colleges and universities can gain a clear competitive advantage within a crowded field.

Jodi Tandet

Jodi Tandet

Jodi Tandet is Modern Campus's Manager of Brand Content. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Creative Writing from Emory University and a Master's in College Student Affairs from Nova Southeastern University. As a campus professional, she's advised student organizations, planned co-curricular events, developed leadership programs and staffed trips abroad. Jodi lives in Riverview, Florida with her canine roommate, Maisi.

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